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Canadiens vs Bruins: Winter Classic game preview, start time, and TV schedule

With the Canadiens struggling and the Bruins undermanned, can these ancient rivals make the season's most anticipated game into a classic?

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

The frustration is mounting.

The Montreal Canadiens got their win in Tampa Bay, a breathlessly anticipated epiphany for a team underperforming beyond description. Then, less than 24 hours later, the relapse.

Throughout one of the miserable months in the history of their franchise, the Canadiens kept on the right path. They played the right way, deserving to win more often that they lost. They said the right things, proselytizing on the need to maintain their cohesively voracious style and wait for the goals to come.

But even as Mike Condon, and now Ben Scrivens, have provided the support they need, the skaters have lost their way. Better than near-any team in the best league on the planet, the Habs use an aggressive forward to create chaos in the offensive zone, with one of his teammates waiting to reap the spoils of a puck battle won. But as that support has evaporated, so have all of the qualities that make the Canadiens an intimidating opponent.

The Boston Bruins defence corps is the prototypical Canadiens victim, begging to turn the puck over when forced to act quickly. Even better, the Habs are finding Boston at the right moment, as injuries and suspension have left the team significantly disarmed.

70 000 fans may feel otherwise, but this game can belong to the Tricolore. They need only return to the habits that got them here.

How to Watch

Start time: 1:00 PM ET
In Canada (French): TVA
In Canada (English): Sportsnet
In the United States: NBC
Elsewhere: NHL GameCenter, NHL Center Ice

Tale of the Tape

Canadiens Statistic Bruins
21-15-3 Record 20-12-4
2-8-0 L10 Record 6-3-1
53.2 Score-Adjusted Corsi % 49.9
111 Goals For 115
98 Goals Against 97
1.04 5v5 Goal Ratio 1.14
19.2 PP% 29.4
84.4 PK% 81.9

Know Your Enemy

By equal parts fate and design, the Boston Bruins roster has undergone a serious metamorphosis from the group that was in place when the the 2016 Winter Classic was announced.

As Don Sweeney made his mark last summer, Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, and Reilly Smith were shipped out. Simultaneously, Carl Soderberg, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille were allowed to walk.

Out of Sweeney's control were injuries, including those to significant contributors like David Krejci, Chris Kelly, and David Pastrnak (the latter has now been lent to his country's national junior team). Factor in Brad Marchand's suspension, and the transformation is complete: at least 45% of the game-day roster will have turned over since the Bruins learned they would start 2016 outside.

Despite the turmoil, this year's Bruins remain in a position similar to last year's. Their points percentage sits around the .600 mark, and the team sits just behind the Canadiens in the divisional race.

But even with their perseverance acknowledged, Friday's game represents a greater challenge. The absence of Marchand and Krejci deprives the B's of two of their three best forwards, and two of their top-5 scorers at even strength. Considering the team's utter reliance on their top-six to produce offence at even strength, the pressure mounts on Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, and Matt Beleskey to keep the team scoring.

Of course, the former pair are the two key cogs in the Bruins' most dangerous weapon: their powerplay. With four more goals against Ottawa on Tuesday, the league's best unit kept rolling. If the recently toothless Canadiens allow the Bruins to operate with that Patriots-like efficiency, their time in the spotlight will become another hopeless endeavour.

Last Time Out

The Habs last game against the Bruins was another one of those losing streak classics. They stayed out of the box, and foiled the Bruins when they were down a man. They wreaked havoc against that rugged Boston defensive group, outshooting Boston 33-23 and out-attempting them 57-35. Accordingly, they lost.

Eriksson jammed up the Habs blueliners on a third period powerplay, forcing a turnover that Zdeno Chara returned to him in short order. Eriksson's breakaway tally tied the game, and set-up Landon Ferraro and Bergeron to ice the game soon after.

With the exception of Alex Galchenyuk's rough go against the Bruins' top line, the Habs won virtually ever match-up, save for their collective battle with Rask.

If Rask puts forth another overwhelming effort at Gillette stadium, then so be it. After all, it would be no more than another in a long string of frustratingly similar results for Montreal.

But, at the very least, the Habs owe it to their opponents to use their speed, aggression, and cohesion the same way they did last time. Perhaps then, with millions as their witnesses, they can give their foremost rivals a taste of that frustration they just can't seem to escape.